The Author

Sergio Caliva

Sergio Caliva is a visiting fellow at Vocal Europe. He is passionate about security and international politics where he has a special interest in the Western Balkans. Caliva is fluent in English and French and has a good command of Spanish.


Overnight into the August 24, the Ukraine’s independence day, an ecological disaster in the city of Armyansk in the northern part of the temporary occupied Crimea occurred, close to the administrative border with the Ukraine province of Kherson.

The local residents started to smell acid odour and described a greasy rust-like substance which covered plants and houses and made metal items go rusty. These toxic emissions definitely stem by the Krymsky Titan (Crimean Titan) plant in the town of Armyansk: therefore the local authorities, although late, are taking action to face this issue in order to find out the real causes.

What happened?

During the Ukraine’s Independence Day, local citizens noticed a coloured fog above Armyansk, while the day after everything was covered with oily rusty slick: metals began to rust, trees and shrubs were dried and the fields turned yellow and even blackened. Meanwhile, people started to feel unwell by manifesting symptoms such as headache, nausea, cough as well as chemical burns, eye and throat irritations. The absence of an official reaction by local authorities made people not understand what the origin of these health problems was.

One week later, Crimean environmentalists and experts concluded that sulfuric acid emissions have been spewed into the air by the nearby “Crimean Titan” plant, which produces and uses this acid in order to dissolve titanium dioxide from ilmenite, the titanium ore.

Despite the clear signs of the ecological accident, initially the local authorities did not estimate it as a real threat, allowing the normal start of the school on September 1st and letting thousands of children inhaling air with excesses of harmful substances.

After the second release of chemical substances occurred, on the 4th of September the self-proclaimed Head of Crimea Sergey Aksyonov admitted that the concentration of sulphurous anhydride in the air had exceeded acceptable levels. Therefore, the evacuations plan started, although with some delay. According to the temporary occupied Crimean Healthcare Ministry, more than four thousand people, largely children, have been evacuated from the polluted area.

In principle, local officials were afraid to call this process an evacuation in order not to spread panic in the region, so they limited themselves by stating that they were sending children to an unplanned vacations: at the same time, Sergey Aksyonov stressed that nothing was threatening the life and the health of citizen to call out the emergency situation, considering the children’s initiative as simply precautionary measure.

Given the closeness between the contaminated region and the mainland, and the 15 cases of children taken to the hospital for suspected chemical poisoning in Kherson province, the Ukrainian State Border Service’s reaction was to temporarily close two of three checkpoints on the roads leading to Crimea.

Kalanchak and Chaplynka checkpoints had temporarily stopped working, in order to preserve the health of the State Border Guard Service personnel as well as of the citizens living close to the border: at the same time the Ukrainian Government allowed Ukrainian citizens from the occupied peninsula to escape the contamination by passing through the only checkpoint left opened in Chongar, in order to be treated.

Therefore, on 4 of September the Kremlin-installed Head of Crimea Aksyonov declared that the plant would have been shut down for two weeks: however, to end the plant’s operations is not to be the solution for the reduction of the toxic emissions.

Which are the causes of the sulphuric anhydride spread?

According to the experts, the toxic emissions’ origin is the evaporation of the acid accumulator’s content used by the Krymsky Titan plant, a branch of the Titanium Investment. The aforementioned plant is the largest chemical substances’ producer within the Eastern Europe and it belongs to the DF Group International GmbH of the Ukrainian oligarch Dmytro Firtash since 2000.

After the Russian occupation of the Ukraine peninsula, the DF Group International GmbH registered a new company in Moscow, the Titanium Investment, in order to manage the plant which was renamed in Ukrainian Chemical Products and then re-registered in Kiev. As a matter of fact, this procedure allowed the company to avoid sanctions.

Its products are sulfuric acid, iron vitriol, liquid sodium glass, aluminium sulphate, mineral fertilizers. But the main direction of the company is the production of titanium dioxide pigment: the plant has two workshops, namely Titan-1 and Titan-2 for the production of this chemical substance.

During the past four years a shortage of water in the occupied Crimea occurred. Ukraine blocked the flow of Dnipro water from the North Crimean Canal. The Ukraine’s aim seems to restrain Russian demands of Ukrainian resources to support its illegal military occupation and to pursuit its illegitimate economic interests, after it violated the international law by occupying the Crimean region.

The Ukraine’s authorities uphold the absence of legal grounds to restore the water supply through the Canal since every economic activities in the occupied region should be carried out in compliance with the Legislation of Ukraine and international documents such as the UNGA Resolution 68/262 about the “Territorial integrity of Ukraine”.

Thus, the Russian claims that about the shutdown of the Canal as the cause for the toxic emissions seems to be baseless: even former plant’s workers explained that no amount of water is able to dissolve those volumes of acid to a neutral level and that the reasons of the disasters would be deeper.

The chief Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry is in opinion that the chemical emissions in the northern part of the occupied Crimea have been caused by shells who hit the storage facilities during a military exercise conducted by the Russian Armed Forces.

Between 13-19 of August 2018, during a military drill having place near the administrative border with the Kherson province, Russian military allegedly fired shots close to the tanks for chemical wastes damaging them and leading to a deterioration of the environmental situation, already precarious.

The current situation seems to present many discrepancies. It is still unclear why Crimean and Russian authorities took so much time before realising information about the disaster: also, why the plant’s operations continued despite the several fines for safety violations ordered by the Russian Rospotrebnadzor.

Could this disaster be a tool conceived by Russians to enhance the destabilization in southern Ukraine or to push toward a nationalization of the Titanium Company? In this regard, Aksyonov declared that the “Crimean Titan” plant could be nationalized if its owners will not eliminate the consequences of the chemical emissions.

Anyway, with regard to the chemical emissions occurred in Armyansk, the Ukraine’s Ombudsman Lyudmyla Denisova appealed to the United Nations Environment Programme. Whenever the connection between the environmental disaster and the presence of chemical weapons would be confirmed, Ukraine would appeal to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and recognize it as a chemical attack.

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